By Su Stella – June 2017
One of the most beautiful, scenic and natural drives that I have taken has been from the town of Westfir to the Cougar Dam in Oregon. It is the ‘West Cascades Scenic Byway~ 19’ or the Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive. This is 60 miles of pure wilderness that is constantly changing on both sides of the road. There can be moss covered trees or roaring rivers. Plus, countless waterfalls of all sizes are always a surprise when you take the next curve.
Before you turn off highway 58, stop by the Middle Fork Ranger Station, these folks can help you with up to date maps and information about the area, and anything unexpected like inclement weather. Also, they can explain some of the things that are required from you like permits for everything from mushroom hunting, to fishing, and firewood collecting. One of the most important things they can talk to you about is campfire safety and if there are any burn bans. *Fire safety is taken very seriously, because carelessness can burn animals out of thousands of habitable acres or destroy our homes. They also sell park access passes and souvenirs. Don’t forget to pick up the audio tour of the 19 from them.
Just after you turn onto Westfir Road, you will come to Casey’s Riverside RV Park. Casey’s has the best of many things, like great RV spaces for large rigs to be along the river. There is fly fishing, kayaking, canoeing, or just refresh yourself in the beautiful water. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, put on your hiking boots or hop on your bike and hit the trails.
The town of Oakridge is just a few miles away so you can stock up, get your prescriptions refilled or visit great restaurants like the Cedar Creek Café, the Ridge, Mazatlán Mexican, Lee’s Gourmet Garden, Big Mountain Pizza, Stewart’s 58, the Brewers Union or the Uptown Bistro.
Westfir is the gateway to the West Cascades Scenic Byway. This journey is just as magical as the views and stops along the way. The tiny intersection in Westfir has ‘the Office Covered Bridge’ and the Westfir Lodge. The lodge was the original office for the growing the timber industry in 1925, it was used by several logging companies. In 1944, they built ‘The Office Bridge’ which is Oregon’s longest covered bridge in the state at 180 feet long and the only one with a separate pedestrian walkway. The bridge is now part of a nice little park to enjoy an afternoon, you can just walk or drive across it.
In 1990’s the old office building was converted into the Westfir Lodge, a lovely bed and breakfast. The interior furniture and settings feel like you stepped into your great Grandmother’s house. Owner Dawn Hendrix serves complimentary homemade gourmet breakfasts, that will nourish you. In the afternoon enjoy a snack or local craft beer in the courtyard. This lodge is a favorite for people from all over the world so it is best to make reservations in this 9-bedroom B&B. Mountain bikers can easily set out early for the roads and trails on the 19.
The Aufderheide or West Cascades Scenic Byway
Why the funny name?Bob Aufderheide worked for the forest service for over 25 years, and was the supervisor of the Willamette National Forest from 1954 until his death in 1959. His work helped preserve all the beauty you will see along this drive.
Be Prepared for a Real American Adventure
Before you venture on the Aufderheide you need to make sure that you have a full tank of gas, and you have provisions because there are no places to refuel your car or your body. Cell phone service is basically nonexistent. Please be aware, animals, pedestrians or bicyclists may be around the next corner so don’t speed. This natural area is unpredictable, there may have hazards like fallen rocks, or downed trees. It may have snow on it, even in June, so you may have to turn around. That is part of the adventure!
Aside from all the natural beauty, the 19 has several off-shoot attractions, the like Huckleberry Flats OHV trails and Blair Lake (10 miles). But don’t get sidetracked yet, because many surprises await you on the 19. Constitution Grove has amazing oversized old growth trees, that have been around since our country was founded. These trees were celebrated and dedicated in 1985. If you are interested in bird and animal watching, bring your binoculars to Box Canyon. You can read about spotted owls, and some of the history on the informational signs. When I talk about unpredictability, the snow line stopped us here in late May 2017.
Just a bit further is Box Canyon Horse Campground. This nice area has several corrals, but it does not have potable drinking water so be sure to have your own supply. Speaking of camping there are quite a few parks along the way like Kiahanie, Homestead, Slide Creek, French Pete, Cougar Crossing, Sunnyside, and Delta Campground. Many have an honesty system for payment so be sure to carry cash in small bills or better yet buy a park pass.
All along the 19 there will be side roads, that range from nicely paved to gravel roads in varying conditions from maintained to wash boarded gravel and some will narrow into overgrown car scratchers. From experience, we no longer turn our Honda Element onto unknown gravel roads, we save those for the Jeep. Also, we carry a chainsaw and extra supplies, bug spray and warm clothes even in the summer because this is the wilderness, raw and untamed.
Due to the fires and landslides in 2017 and 2018 the complete Aufderheide may not be accessible.
Please contact the Westfir or McKenzie Ranger Stations for up to date information.